CLYBOURNE PARK: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play, this title almost seems like it comes to Fresno straight from Broadway. (I got to see it in New York in 2012, and Bruce Norris’ script is sensational.) The new Fresno State production, which opens tonight at the John Wright Theatre, is the cover story in today’s 7 section. Don’t miss Bee photographer John Walker’s photo gallery of the production.
Today is Giving Tuesday (or #givingtuesday, for the hashtag crowd). I could give you a long list of support-worthy causes. Instead, I will suggest The Normal School, the bi-annual literary magazine based out of Fresno State.
The magazine is the type of thing Fresno needs more of. It features nonfiction, fiction, poetry, criticism and journalism and is a great catalyst for local talent, especially given its emphasis on boundary-challenging and/or innovative content, form or focus.
To get a feel for what the magazine is about, show up 7 p.m. tonight at Peeve’s Public House on the Fulton Mall to celebrate The Normal School’s 11th issue. It will be literary — with readings from Corrinne Hales, Randa Jarrar, Steven Church and Fresno State MFA students. There will also be music from Lance Canales and the Flood. The event is free and open to the public, but you can subscribe or donate to the magazine, which goes a long way toward printing issue No. 12.
Before the party, Canales will be at Fresno State to discuss songwriting, music making and the like. The discussion starts at 3 p.m. in the Peter’s Business Building, room 194. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot and a parking pass.
Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” always moves me. An example: I’m tugged by melancholy early in the first act when the Stage Manager — the semi-omnipotent narrator who in a very non-ordinary way guides the audience through the machinations of a very ordinary town –casually mentions that Doc Gibbs will die in 1930. The hospital will be named for him.
That’s years in the future, at least the future according to 1901, the year in which the first act is set, and it has nothing to do with the story at hand, or even the story to come, really. (Doc Gibbs actually lives a lot longer than many of the other characters in the play.) But the mention of the doctor’s impending death, a tossed-off line related so dispassionately, speaks to how the playwright makes “Our Town” into a rumination on time — and how little of it humans really have. Doc Gibbs was there. Now he isn’t.
In Fresno State’s handsome, vibrant production of the classic play, we get thoroughly wrapped up in this timeless exploration of time, if you will. Director J. Daniel Herring’s well-crafted staging has a burnished, heartfelt feel that never tries to hide the show’s historic underpinnings. (This is “Our Town’s” 75th anniversary.) But it does it in a way that feels fresh, almost modern. If this production were a furniture store, it’d be a Room and Board, not a Thomasville.
Scrooge in November? You bet. The new Good Company Players production of “A Christmas Carol” opens tonight at the 2nd Space Theatre. It has some great casting, including Mark Norwood — a GCP alum and artistic director of Reedley’s River City Theatre Company — in the plum role of Ebenezer Scrooge. (Something tells me this’ll be a Scrooge I won’t soon forget.) The show continues through Dec. 22. If you see it early in the run, just look at it this way: It’ll give you that much more time for Christmas shopping.
Also opening tonight: the new Fresno State production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” celebrating the play’s 75th anniversary. You can read my story on the show in Friday’s 7 section.
Pictured: Norwood, left, and Brian Freet as Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol.”
October is full of things to do, including these 7 picks for Oct. 17-23. From a silent film at the historic downtown Warnors Theatre to Fresno State Football, a beer festival and a big-time rock concert, these are some of the best bets for your entertainment.
For a couple of weeks last spring, it seemed like you couldn’t go more than a day without reading on the Beehive about Ryan Woods. The Fresno State theater major was one of two students from the university to go all the way to the acting finals at the American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C., an event I was lucky enough to be able to cover. As two of the nation’s 16 finalists, Woods and fellow Fresno State student Myles Bullock spent almost a week at the Kennedy Center as part of the festival.
Woods and Bullock didn’t win the top prizes. But Woods did walk away with two plum honors: the National Partners of the American Theatre Classical Acting Award, which got him a three-week stint at the renowned Shaw Festival in Niagra-on-the-Lake, Ontario; and the Williamstown Theatre Festival Apprenticeship, an eight-week program in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.
Both Woods and Bullock, coincidentally, are standouts in Fresno State’s production of “The First Breeze of Summer,” which is in its final weekend. I connected with Woods several weeks ago to ask how his summer internships went.
Question: What was it like to come back to campus after doing so well in D.C.? Did you get your 15 minutes of Fresno State fame?
Answer: Haha, everyone was very supportive and congratulatory. The professors were extremely proud, and thanks to your amazing coverage of the competition, I had people calling me and facebook messaging me congratulating me on my success who weren’t even aware that I was competing. It was a very cool experience.
She still is, actually, as an elderly grandmother in Leslie Lee’s “The First Breeze of Summer.” As the matriarch of an extended family and a pillar in her church, she exudes a sense of stability and morality, particularly to her grandsons.
But grandmothers were young once. One of the intriguing aspects of this play, which continues through Saturday at Fresno State’s Woods Theatre, is that the past and present march next to each other, giving us a view of Lucretia that acknowledges her resolve, independence and sexuality. As the complex narrative dips into the lives of her family — all taking place within a few days of her birthday — we get specific views of the African-American experience from economic, religious and sociological standpoints.
This production, directed by Thomas-Whit Ellis, is a hybrid of sorts. It’s part staged reading, with actors sitting in chairs with scripts in front of them. It’s also partly staged, with various scenes performed by off-script actors in fully blocked, or acted out, moments. There are no sets. Costumes are minimal, with actors wearing variations of contemporary basic black.
The result is awkward — and somewhat disappointing.
In Friday’s 7 section, I talk with Thomas-Whit Ellis, director of the new Fresno State production of “The First Breeze of Summer.” Here’s the extended version of that interview.
What is the play about?
The play focuses on two stories. Story A takes place in the early 20′s and deals with the life of Lucretia, a young, attractive, black domestic struggling to find her place in the world and a fitful love life. She falls in love with and trusts 3 different guys who clearly take advantage of her, each leaving her with a child. One of which, a rich, white guy who presents the kind of schizophrenic, love/hate view of blacks as the late Strom Thurmond, who fought against civil rights but fathered a child with a black mistress. Ironically, her young life takes place in the same region as Thurmond’s constituency.
Story B takes place some decades later where we see a senior Lucretia (Gremmar) living with one of her grown children, and forming a strong bond with her grandson, a sensitive and frustrated adolescent who thinks the world of her and her commitment to her faith. Things go awry when he stumbles upon her past, these lovers and what he views as sordid, sinful liaisons.
Thirty years ago, I made my first trip to Fresno. I was in the Cal Poly marching band, and we traveled to Bulldog Stadium for a Fresno State home football game. We lost. That was just the start of my very bad Fresno day, which ended with a car running into a restaurant, a ruptured gas main and a very nearly barbecued visiting trombone player. (That would be me.)
When Cal Poly beats Fresno State tonight — which it will, because I am an alum, and I must believe — it will be about the universe making things right after the inhospitable welcome I received from Fresno 30 years ago. So, to hardcore Fresno State fans, I apologize in advance. But don’t hold any grudges. I didn’t. I’ve grown to love this place.
As for Ashley’s farewell, which was held at The Voice Shop, it was “Astonishing.” (That’s the title of the song from “Little Women” that Ashley picked as her last song, minus all the trumpets. Move over, Sutton Foster.) Two of my favorite moments: Danielle Jorn offering a cross-species performance with the song “Velociraptor” and Kyle Lowe closing the evening with an exquisitely performed version of “I and Love and You.” No one knows how to send off a person to New York in style like the theater community.
College football season is just around the corner. Today, Fresno State released this video showing off its 2013 uniforms, including an all black version. The Bee shares these tidbits about the uniforms.
Customers wait in line for corn outside of the Fresno State farm store on Saturday, May 25, 2013.
As many of you know from past posts, I enjoy cycling around Fresno. The view from the bike gives me a new perspective on our cities, and it keeps me in shape. Sometimes I ride the Clovis Bike Trails, head to Woodward Park or go out into the country. I try to mix it up. And I’m always looking for somewhere new to ride.
On Saturday, I decided to join the Park to Park ride put on by the Fresno Bike Party and I Bike Fresno folks as part of Bike Month. We rode from Oso de Oro park to Roeding Park. With a few extra miles thrown in to make a loop to my house, the ride was a fun and social, and one that took me through diverse neighborhoods and past a lot of notable food spots, including:
Fresno State farm store: Known for its corn (see that line!), the store features produce grown by ag students, and student-made products like ice cream, sausage and wine. At the new market you can sample wine and grab a scoop.
The Fresno State Bulldog Pride Fund is staging an intriguing fundraiser with its production of “Dear Harvey,” a play by Patricia Loughrey about Harvey Milk, the gay civil rights activist and San Francisco politician assassinated in 1978. (Today is Harvey Milk Day.) The play will be presented tonight and Thursday night at The Painted Table in the Tower District.
A stellar local cast directed by Miguel A. Gastelum tackles this nearly fully staged production that includes lighting, sound and multimedia. (Because of the short rehearsal schedule, the actors are still on book.) It features seven ensemble cast members: Joel C. Abels, Matthew Freitas, Hayley Galbraith, Jennifer Lewis, Terry Lewis, Chris Mangels, and Leslie Martin.
There are a number of price points for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. opening, including options for a two-course dinner, wine-and-cheese pre-reception and dessert post-reception. On Thursday, which features general seating, pre-performance beverages and menu items will be available for purchase starting at 5:30 p.m., with the show starting at 7:30 p.m.
Two Absurdist One Acts: “Play” by Samuel Beckett and “The Bald Soprano,” by Eugene Ionesco. Directed by Ruth Griffin. March 14-22, 2014.
“Othello,” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Brad Myers. May 2-10, 2014
Strong, interesting season. “Clybourne Park” is a very recent Broadway Tony winner — I saw it last season and it’s superb. I love the thought of an Absurdist double-header. And something tells me this isn’t going to be your grandfather’s “Our Town.”
The mysterious visitor appears from the desert like a mirage come to life. She is named Sympathy the Learned, the most educated person in the world, and she’s come here to the court of the king to prove it. Ask me any question, she says to the wisest men in the kingdom. One of these skeptical men hopes to trip her up with this: “What are the 17 branches of Islam?”
She knows the answer, of course, answering the question confidently and briskly. Brianne Vogt, as Sympathy, is great in the role. But the best part for me about this moment in Fresno State’s sweet and gracefully staged production of “Arabian Nights,” which continues through Saturday at the John Wright Theatre, is the reaction of the ensemble cast members seated at her feet.
With each of the 17 answers to the question, the other actors, sitting cross-legged at attention, twist their upraised hands back and forth, almost as if they’re belly dancers with clackers counting off each correct response. There’s something nuanced and subtle about these gestures — mere slivers of movement in a show bursting with carefully conceived motion — that adds a precious zing to the scene. It’s wonderful.
A roundup of news tidbits, random musings and sleep-deprived observations as I sit at LAX waiting for my fight to Fresno:
Saturday results: Mohammad Shehata, the Fresno City College student participating in the national critics competition at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, didn’t win his division. (The final technical awards were given at noon Saturday at the Kennedy Center, just before everyone scooted off to the airport.) But even though he didn’t take home the top honor, I think Shehata had an enriching experience at the Kennedy Center. He really seemed to thrive in the intellectual vigor of his sessions as he worked with top-notch mentors Bob Nelson (Washington Post) and Mark Charney (the O’Neill Critics Institute), along with Bob Mondello of National Public Radio. Shehata was the only actor in the critics group, and from what he tells me, he brought an intriguing perspective to a table full of writers (who were, of course, vastly outnumbered by actors and designers throughout the event).
The Kennedy Center itself: It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it before — it’s always impressive. With its huge marble walls and sweeping views of the Potomac, you feel a “capital of the empire” vibe emanating from the building’s imposing magnitude. The chandeliers inside are bigger than my car. The Terrace Theatre, where the Irene Ryan finals were held, has a big stage, and when it’s bare — except for a tight square delineated by piercing white light — it seemed even more officious.
The “Beverly Hillbilles” connection: The Irene Ryan scholarships are named for the veteran actress who played Granny on the TV series. She gave enough money to establish the program in perpetuity. Throughout the evening, during down times, photographs of Ryan were projected on the backdrop. But it was just so weird to see her not looking like Granny.
The “competition”: Officially, it’s a scholarship audition. The “C” word must not be uttered within the presence of KCATCF organizers. Get this: the judges are called “auditors,” because if they were judges, it would be a competition, right? What-ever.
Update: Matthew McGee last night won a Helen Hayes award for outstanding supporting actor in a play. That’s a big deal!
Fresno State’s Brad Myers watched the award presentation online and got a little choked up at McGee’s acceptance speech, in which he thanked his parents (who traveled from California for the ceremony) and acting professors Myers and Leslie Martin. (You can listen to McGee’s heartfelt speech, in which he admitted he was scared to make the move to D.C. but was so glad he took the chance, here. Go to the 1:14 mark.)
How important is this award to McGee’s career? One of the hosts noted that a Helen Hayes award is highly esteemed by people on Broadway, and that having one in your back pocket can get you through lots of doors.
Original post 01/29/13: Fresno’s Facebook theater community is abuzz with the news that recent Fresno State graduate Matthew McGee scored a nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a play in the 29th Helen Hayes Awards, which represent excellence in Washington, DC-area professional theater. In doing so, he’s in the company of such nominees as Kathleen Turner, Paul Downs Colaizzo and Christopher Sieber.
There’s still plenty of time to catch the annual Contemporary Dance Ensemble at Fresno State. Five performances remain for “Joy! Shout!” 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
The company, under the artistic direction of Kenneth Balint, aims to present works that are serious in content and entertaining, with a social meaning or context. This year’s program contains five premieres: “Doubt Surrounding the Inevitable Light” by guest choreographer Rogelio Lopez, “Finding Me” by guest choreographer Martha Kelly-Fierro, “Existence” by ensemble dancer Leesha Melson, and “Redux” and “Joy! Shout!” by Balint.
And talk about a bargain: It’s a ticket sale! (Update: for online sales, use the code “dances13″.)
Fresno State’s Theatre Arts’ concert “Joy! Shout!” 8 p.m. Feb. 19-23. 50% off on remaining performances bit.ly/YxlIsv
I received a thoughtful note from Brigid de Jong, a Fresno State music professor:
Thank you for the fine article about our local players participating in the Fresno Phil’s pops concert on Saturday. Jazz is alive and well in Fresno.
I was disappointed, however, that you didn’t mention the connection that exists between Fresno City College and Fresno State. The fine teaching that the students receive at FCC can segue into a degree with a jazz emphasis at Fresno State, headed by Alan Durst (whose name you did mention, but perhaps you didn’t know he developed and runs our instrumental jazz major.)
Since you made a point of acknowledging the strong jazz program at FCC, I think it would have been good to point out that our local students can continue that fine beginning by earning a BA in music with an emphasis in instrumental jazz. As it is a relatively new option, this would have been a great opportunity to inform the community about it.
Thank you for your extremely thorough and thoughtful coverage of the arts in our area. You do the community a great service by constantly showing the people here that the arts are alive and well in the Fresno community.
Students can get their burrito fix starting today as the new Chipotle at Cedar and Shaw avenues opens.
The popular restaurant chain is in the same shopping center as Uncle Harry’s and Jamba Juice. It took quite a few months to get this location — the former The Big Swirl and The Big Cheese frozen yogurt and grilled cheese shop — looking like a Chipotle.
Here’s betting the chain with an emphasis sustainably raised food that once had ties with McDonalds does well at that location. Chipotle has a history of succeeding near colleges, with its first one just steps from the University of Denver campus.
“Students are really big Chipotle fans and customers for us,” says spokesman Chris Arnold.
Chipotle is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
The doctor warns the nurse before she enters the hospital room. You’ve never seen a patient this disfigured and horrific before, he tells her. Prepare yourself. Nonsense, she insists. She’s seen it all, including the worst diseases in Africa. There’s no way she will respond with anything but compassion.
The nurse strides confidently into the room, takes one look at John Merrick — the “Elephant Man” — and promptly flees.
One of the fascinating things about Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 Victorian-era-set play, which Fresno State is staging in a solid if slightly musty (and occasionally tedious) production through Saturday, is the way it identifies with that nurse. We’d all like to think we’re strong enough, both in sensibility and spirit, to look past the “surface” and see the inner beauty within a sturdy soul like Merrick. Or at least maintain our composure when meeting someone like him for the first time. But even if we prepared ourselves, we don’t really know how we’d respond to such a situation until we were in it.
Fresno State’s “The Elephant Man,” under the direction of J. Daniel Herring, opens Friday. And it might come as a surprise to learn that Dane Oliver, who plays the title character, doesn’t use any makeup or prosthetics in his portrayal. It turns out that’s a tradition for this show. I caught up with Herring to talk about the production, which continues through Dec. 15, for Friday’s 7 section. Here’s an extended version of that interview.
Question: Many people are familiar with the movie version of “The Elephant Man.” In what major ways does Bernard Pomerance’s play differ?
There are two distinct differences. One is that the majority of the play takes place in Whitechapel Hospital while there are many scenes in the film outside the walls of the hospital. Probably the most significant difference is that the actor portraying the Elephant Man performs the role of this grossly disfigured man using no makeup or prosthetics and of course in the film, the actor is quite “made-up”.
For those who aren’t familiar, what’s the basic storyline?
The Elephant Man” is based on the life of John Merrick, who lived in London during the latter part of the nineteenth century. A horribly deformed young man, victim of rare skin and bone diseases, he has become the star freak attraction in traveling side shows. Found abandoned and helpless, he is admitted to London’s prestigious Whitechapel Hospital. Under the care of celebrated young physician Frederick Treves, Merrick is introduced to London society and slowly evolves from an object of pity to an urbane and witty favorite of the aristocracy and literati only to be denied his ultimate dream, to become a man like any other.